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More than 50,000 West Virginians receive attempted unemployment scam in mail

Workforce West Virginia said tens of thousands of West Virginians have reported unemployment fraud claims to its office.
Published: Aug. 20, 2020 at 3:55 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - More than 100,000 people in the Mountain State have applied for unemployment, but state officials are warning about a new scam. They say even those who haven’t applied need to be on the lookout.

Scott Adkins, acting commissioner with Workforce West Virginia, said they’ve received more than 50,000 fraudulent claims based around the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.

“(That program is) provided by the CARES act for independent contractors and self-employed folks, so majority of the fraud is being attempted in that particular system,” Adkins said.

Adkins explained the way the PUA system works: you can go online, put in the information requested to file for unemployment such as Social Security number, name and address, and the system will auto generate a debit card which will then be mailed to that individual.

That attempted fraud is coming by mail, including a Key Bank debit card, which is one way unemployment funds are dispersed. If someone receives a Key Bank debit card, it is likely someone filed an unemployment claim in their name. However, Adkins said the card does not automatically have money on it the first time.

“Once you get the card, it won’t have any funds on it until we contact the individual and verify their identity and income,” Adkins said, explaining this is good news because it will stop any scammer before they’re able to get access to unemployment funds.

Adkins said to try to cut down on fraud, the only way people can get unemployment benefits for the first time is by a paper check or a Key Bank debit card. Both require specific information in order to take advantage of the money that’s available.

After receiving the Key Bank card or paper check, people on unemployment are able to change the way they receive funds. Adkins says scammers hope to be able to get to that point, to make that switch to a card they have access to, giving them the opportunity to gain some of that money. However, again, Adkins said Workforce WV does verify the individual looking to receive unemployment funds is actually who they say they are.

Adkins said Workforce WV is working with the FBI, United States Department of Labor Office of Inspector General and with the United States Department of Justice to combat the scams that are happening.

Adkins said there was a huge data breach by Equifax in 2017 that compromised the information of more than 148,000,000 Americans. Information including names, homes addresses, phone numbers, date of birth, Social Security numbers and drivers license numbers were compromised, which are all items needed to make an unemployment claim.

“Our federal partners seem to think the majority of the attempted fraud is coming from that breach because, they do have all that specific information that’s needed to file that (unemployment) claim,” Adkins said.

He said states throughout the country are dealing with unemployment fraudulent claims.

“It’s huge, we’re probably one of the last states to get hit, but it’s huge, you’re talking probably hundreds of millions of dollars that have been paid in fraudulent claims.”

Workforce asks anyone who receives a card, who did not file for unemployment and/or if you’re employed and didn’t file, to report it to them by either emailing your name and address to: reportunemploymentfraud@wv.gov., going to their website and clicking on the “To report fraud concerning unemployment benefits” tab pictured below:

Click on the tab to report a fraud claim.
Click on the tab to report a fraud claim.(Tori Yorgey)

or you may also make a claim by calling: 304-433-8790.

They urge you to make the claim and once you are through with reporting it, destroy the card.

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